Nigel Farage has caught his second wind – trivialising his influence now will make him unstoppable

Matthew Norman
Nigel Farage has caught his second wind – trivialising his influence now will make him unstoppable

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… but you never thought that. The water was perfectly well infested as it was.

Nonetheless, the great white shark of Brexit is visible just off the beach again, and the landscape looks more hellish than it did a week ago.

No one, not Ken Clarke or Michael Heseltine or any other Euro-romantic, you suspect, was as distressed by the referendum result as Nigel Farage.

Although he faked the joy, it was a shattering blow to a pouting mega-narcissist with a saviour complex to lose the spotlight. No victory in modern politics can have felt more pyrrhic. It robbed him of the right to scream “betrayal!” His political relevance evaporated.

So this public school, City boy anti-establishmentarian tried his luck in the States, first as Trump’s warm-up man at campaign rallies, then flitting around the outer edges of the presidential whirlpool in search of a job.

That this came to nothing must also have hurt. How can it feel to the Moses who freed his people from bondage to be so insignificant in the promised land across the pond that he wasn’t among the rogues and imbeciles “the best”, in Trumpese who were hired?

Imagine watching another Brit, the stridently revolting Sebastian Gorka, strutting his stuff on the telly while the granddaddy of the Brexit that aided (if not enabled) the idiot’s election was denied access to the Trump Tower elevator?

After the wilderness years, having concluded that a 23rd stint as Ukip’s leader wasn’t worth the hassle after the endless pantomime grotesqueries, the comeback is on.

The Brexit Party he relaunched last week with the elegant mission statement to “put the fear of God into MPs”, stands poised for a splendid European elections (assuming they are held) in May.

The Conservatives are crashing in the opinion polls, and disintegrating before our very eyes. Labour’s lower level internal strife and dismally confused line on a second referendum suggests it too will struggle. The Lib Dems cannot find the traction to capitalise on the main parties’ weaknesses. Change UK, unless it agrees an electoral pact or informal merger with Vince Cable, will duplicate his message and split the Remain vote.

For the lounge lizard demagogue, the ground couldn’t be more fertile. If he can incinerate the remnants of Ukip, Farage will hoover up the Tory (and in some parts of the country, Labour) refuseniks.

He’s stuck a grand on replicating his old Ukip form by finishing first on a miserable turnout. You can’t accuse of him of not putting his money (albeit, despite the ritual protestations of poverty, that’s beer money to him) where his capacious mouth is.

You can accuse Farage of much else and worse, but not of lacking ambition. He smells an opening, and his nostrils may be right. He knows the extreme volatility of the electoral landscape. He has studied the rise of Trump close up.

If he storms to the top of the Euro election table, he will build on his rhetoric about changing the nature of British politics with what he claims is more than a single issue party.

This, as the name Brexit Party gently hints, is laughable. But we laughed at Farage for years and years, and while we were laughing, he was moulding history. Well, to borrow the Bob Monkhouse gag, we’re not laughing now.

Somewhere in the national DNA is the presumption, instilled over time by a barely blemished record of denying extremists (Farage many times included) parliamentary seats. We believe ourselves uniquely immune to the siren call of the far right.

Farage would dispute not only that smug assumption, but also that he belongs to the far right. He’d smack it away with the confected fury of a two-bit rabble rouser thundering to a Parliament Square crowd about that lot in the neo-Gothic palace across the road being “the enemy”.

According to all precedent and psephological tradition, his resurgence should come to very little. The searing rage of the Brexiteers he intends to inflame seems exaggerated. The public craving to be done with this national nervous breakdown feels deeper and wider than the yearning for radical change. If and when the Commons finally, grudgingly, votes for a fudge, the default apathy could reassert itself overnight.

But if the febrile deadlock persists past May, if Farage and his Brexit Party, deploying the recruitment of Annunziata Rees-Mogg to boost its anti-elitist credentials, perform well in the European elections; if a chunk of the ERG despair of Brexit and join him; if there is a Final Say plebiscite (as I still hope there is, for all the ensuing misery and the uncertainty of the result) to increase the heat…

If these ifs and others come to pass, there is a chance that Farage will express untold gallons of the mother’s milk that is the sense of “betrayal”, and fulfil his dream of becoming a major player in mainstream domestic politics.

Thankfully it is still odds-on that the renaissance for the mini-Trump man of the people with a taste for private jets will fizzle out as fast as it bubbled up.

But clairvoyance is in short supply, and confusing long shots with impossibilities simply because they have not happened before is a fool’s game. It is enough to know for now that he is back in the water with the shark grin on his chops. We may need a bigger boat.